The Many Faces of Terrorism

By David Browne, J.D., Program Chair of Security Studies 

CTU Security Studies Degree - Many faces of terrorismPopular media often portrays a terrorist as a person of Middle Eastern descent. It’s a shortsighted, dangerous and limited perspective that reflects the media’s lack of diversity in imagination. Seldom are terrorists depicted as blonde-haired, blue-eyed individuals dressed in traditional business attire. But that view may soon change.

Innocent in appearance, deadly in action

Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian terrorist is currently in prison in Norway. When he appeared in court, Breivik, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 30-year-old man, sat quietly at the defense table. Dressed in a conservative suit and tie, he could easily be mistaken for an attorney working on the case. If you knew anything about the case, you might find his behavior cold blooded and chilling.

Breivik’s July 22, 2011 attack started with the car bombing of a government building in Oslo, Norway. Several hours later, Breiveik, dressed in a police uniform, took a ferry to an Island that is home to a youth leadership summer camp. Armed with a rifle and a pistol, Breveik wandered the Island for over an hour, shooting anyone who crossed his path. It’s told that he called to youths that it was safe to come out, and then shot his victims. Breviek killed eight in the bombing and 69 more at the camp. It was the worst mass killing in Norway since World War II.

In his statement to authorities, Brevik described a right-wing organization whose purpose was to rid Europe of Muslims. In his rambling manifesto posted online the day of the attack, he described a shadowy right-wing organization with powerful members placed throughout Europe. The group was described as “an order of knights” whose purpose was to eliminate foreign-born people from Northern Europe. Against his lawyer’s advice, Brevik refused to accept an insanity plea. He was found to be sane and was convicted of mass murder. Yet, despite killing 77 people, Brevik will serve no more than 25 years because that is the strictest punishment the Norwegian criminal code allows.

Before sentencing, Brevik read a statement that detailed his plan for the removal of Muslim people from Northern Europe and the domination of the area by the secret organization. He went on to describe how other branches would continue his fight. Most took his speech to be the ranting of a mad man. But, is it possible that the Norwegian court underestimated Brevik?

Sometimes, terrorism grows in the backdrop of normalcy

Stratfor Global Intelligence recently reported on a chemistry professor arrested by Polish authorities. The unnamed chemist was apprehended in the planning stages of an attack he hoped to commit against the Polish Parliament. The plan involved driving a tanker truck filled with homemade explosives into the courtyard of the parliament building and detonating it. The chemistry professor supported Breivik in blog posts, where he also discussed the construction of a larger, more effective bomb. It’s difficult to imagine someone usually perceived as “normal” might be a terrorist, but this professor has technical skills, access to materials and shares views as Breivik.

Considering the veil of normalcy we see in Breivik, and the chemistry professor, we would all do well to recall modern European history and guard against those with fanatical views lying in wait within.

David Browne, J.D., spent over 14 years as a Special Agent in the FBI and was most recently a Crime Analyst at the University of Chicago for six years. He earned a J.D. law degree from Case Western Reserve University and a Bachelor of Psychology from the University of Michigan. He is currently program chair of Security Studies at Colorado Technical University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Flickr/Ryan.Berry